Adolescents with sleep problems were significantly more likely to report self-harm than those without sleep problems, according to the findings of a study led by Mari Hysing from Uni Research in Bergen, and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Insomnia, short sleep duration, long sleep onset latency, wake after sleep onset as well as large differences between weekdays versus weekends, yielded higher odds of self-harm consistent with a dose–response relationship. Depressive symptoms accounted for some, but not all, of this association, the study found.
In order to assess the relationship between lack of sleep and self-harm, a survey was conducted in Norway covering 10,220 adolescents aged 16–19 years on mental health, including a comprehensive assessment of sleep and self-harm. A total of 702, or 7.2% of the total, met the criteria for self-harm, and of those, more than half, or about 55%, reported harming themselves on two or more occasions. Self-harming occurs more frequently among girls than boys, and cutting is the most prevalent form of self-harm. Furthermore, the risk of self-harming was 4 times higher among the adolescents who fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for insomnia. Adolescents who reported self-harm had, as expected, also higher rates of both depression, signs of perfectionism, as well as ADHD symptoms. The researchers say that depressive symptoms accounted for some, but not all, of the association to self-harming. However, the latter association remained significant even in the fully adjusted analyses, they emphasize.
Since the findings highlight a strong relationship between sleep problems and self-harm, the authors of the study recommend that interventions to reduce adolescent self-harm should also incorporate sleep problems as a treatment target.
Of course, treatment depends on finding out first the real cause for the lack of adequate sleep. Insomnia, the inability to get the amount of sleep a body needs to wake up feeling rested and refreshed, is the most commonly cited cause. But insomnia itself is often a symptom of another underlying problem, like stress, anxiety, depression, or a medical condition. It can also result from certain lifestyle choices, including lack of exercise, jet lag, too much partying, or even imbibing too much coffee or cola. Aside from insomnia, other common sleep disorders are sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy. If you suspect your child is having problems sleeping, have him or her checked up by a doctor soon before it leads to even bigger mental health concerns, including self-harm.